Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More on "Intellectual Conflict of Interest"

I previously posted on "Intellectual bias" as a red herring in the conflict-of-interest debate: http://brodyhooked.blogspot.com/2007/12/intellectual-bias-latest-salvo-from.html

Now, Peter Lurie of Public Citizen has put together a slide show (as his presentation before the new Institute of Medicine Committee on Conflict of Interest), which among other things nicely develops the notion of intellectual conflict of interest: http://www.citizen.org/publications/release.cfm?ID=7553&secID=1656&catID=126

What I say here is basically stolen from Slide 9 in Dr. Lurie's presentation. The discussion attached to that slide goes:

Frequently, one hears that there are both financial and intellectual conflicts of interest; somehow this argument is offered as evidence to downplay the importance of the financial conflicts. While intellectual conflicts are important, they can readily be distinguished from financial ones. Financial conflicts of interest are extrinsic to the scientific endeavor, whereas intellectual conflict is the very way science moves forward. Financial conflicts can occur at variable levels – some people have them, some people don’t – and they can be quantified, whereas intellectual conflicts are ubiquitous and not susceptible to quantification in the same way. Moreover, in the context of debate on an advisory committee, for example, it is unlikely that the financial conflict information will naturally emerge, whereas it is likely that any relevant intellectual one will. There are relatively straight-forward methods to alleviate financial conflicts, whereas it’s not nearly as clear how one should approach intellectual conflicts. Finally, our legal system has long recognized the distinctions between the two.

I believe that this is a wonderful, succinct explanation of why these two diffferent forms of conflict are quite different and should be handled as different in any public policy. It explains why intellectual conflict of interest is on the one hand much harder to eliminate (if it could be eliminated at all), and yet poses a much lesser threat to the integrity of science.

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